Nature Notes from Common Ground

Week of January 25, 2021

Weeds in Winter/Praying Mantis Ootheca

It’s easy to admire and appreciate the beauty of spring and summer, when the flowers are in bloom and the world is full of color. Even though things can seem grey and bleak in the winter, when we look closely, there is beauty to be found, even in the dead stalks of plants. The book Weeds in Winter (by local author Lauren Brown) is a great resource for observing and identifying winter plant skeletons and a yearly inspiration when we get the winter blues.

The understated beauty of plants in winter often requires that we take a closer look. This is a great time of year to observe with increased attention, as the forest is quieter and less busy. If the grey days of winter get you down, take some time to appreciate the stillness.

As you look, keep your eyes peeled for brownish masses that look a bit like toasted marshmallows. These are the egg cases (or ootheca) of praying mantises. In the fall, female praying mantises lay their eggs in a foam that hardens, creating small ribbed ovals that protect their eggs over the winter. In the spring, the young hatch and spread out into the world. We have lots of praying mantis ootheca in a spot by our parking lot here at Common Ground. Gardener Tim always collects a few each year and carefully mounts them in the farm and upper garden, so we’ll have plenty of mantises to help with pest control in the gardens.


Big picture


Nature activity of the week

Snow Art

There’s snow in the forecast this week, so here are some snow art activities!


Materials: spray bottles or squeeze bottles, water, food coloring or water-based paints

Mix water with food coloring or paint in each bottle - one color per bottle

Spray or squeeze the color onto the snow to decorate and create paintings!

Pro-tip: Use drink mix powders to make colored water that is tasty, too!

Alternatively, use paintbrushes to create your masterpiece.


Materials: sticks

Use a stick as a pencil and draw in freshly-fallen snow. To erase, simply run your hand over it for a new flat surface!


The wet snow that is forecast for this week should be perfect for sculpting with. Of course, you can make a snow-man or a snow-fort, but why stop there? Simply use your hands to shape the snow into whatever you'd like. If you want to get fancy, use sand toys for shaping the snow, and sticks or butter knives to carve decorations into it. The only limit is your imagination!


Hike of the Week

Racebrook Tract

Each week we share a kid-friendly hike or other outdoor adventure.

For a visit to Racebrook Tract, click here!


Weekly Video

Virtual Field Trip: Pond Habitat



Elm City Montessori

A local New Haven school has been holding outdoor classes, even when most schools in the area were operating fully remotely. Read the New Haven Independent article on Elm City Montessori School's outdoor program.

Professional Development Workshop

Register here for a workshop on food and gardens for teachers!


About this series

Our programs for children at Common Ground are place based, hands on, and focus on community, friendship, and nature-based learning and play.

In this time of virtual learning and social distancing, we seek to support teachers and families in getting outside in safe and healthy ways. We hope this series provides content and activities to help your students or your family engage in nature-based learning, whether you are learning in person or virtually.

Some of the funding we rely on to keep Nature Notes free comes from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and The Claire C. Bennitt Watershed Fund, established by the South Central CT Regional Water Authority.